Kennedy Arena, youth hockey organization deserve support

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During last week’s Common Council meeting, a lengthy discussion ensued over the city-owned and operated J.F. Kennedy Civic Arena — or, more to the point, whether the city should charge reduced fees to the Rome Youth Hockey Association to help the organization keep its costs low to attract and retain youth hockey participants.

During her councilor report, Fourth Ward Councilor Ramona L. Smith addressed a letter received from the RYHA Board of Directors which requested a reduction in the fee it pays the city for use of the arena from $110 to $90-95 per hour. The rate had been raised to $110 last season due to its delayed start from COVID-19 shutdowns and a lack of guidance from the state on how to reopen such a facility, officials said.

In 2007, Smith said the Common Council approved a $3.3 million bond and more than $700,000 was from the community to revitalize and rehabilitate the area, whose chiller and much of its structure had long outlived its useful life. The facility, built in the early 1960s and opened in 1964, was designed to be a place where the community’s enthusiasm for ice hockey and ice skating could be nurtured. Since its inception, and indeed, through its renovation, this has been the guiding force behind its use.

For decades, the Fort Stanwix Hockey Association, incorporated in 1969, paid a reduced hourly rate to the city to help keep hockey and figure skating as affordable options for area families. Slowly, as electricity rates and upkeep became more expensive, the city raised its rates for all users, including youth hockey, to help offset these growing costs.

Despite demographic shifts and growing expenses, youth hockey has remained viable in the community, serving as a great opportunity to enhance the health and fitness of area youngsters (and adults), drawing visitors to the community from across the Northeast and Canada, and enhancing the overall quality of life our community enjoys.

Whether individuals enjoyed use of the area for open skating, watching youth or adult hockey or attending a trade show or other event inside it - or simply enjoyed the residual impacts on our community — we’ve all benefited from its existence.

As such, we can advocate for those options which will increase usership of this venerable community treasure — including reduced rates for ice rentals for groups and organizations to assist their viability. Likewise, during its renovation some city officials lobbied for free admission to city residents for public skating to not just promote usage of the rink but to encourage physical activity for a community which grows ever more sedentary. After all, those officials said at the time, the taxpayers have already shown their support by funding the $3.3 million bond approved by councilors in 2007.

While some revenues may be lost on one end through direct rentals, other revenues could be generated through concessions, advertising, sponsorships, grants and other funding opportunities. Current estimates project an operating deficit for the arena of $48,518 for 2020 and a deficit of $47,801 for 2021. While those are certainly no small amounts, it is but a fraction of a percent in the city’s $44.9 million 2021 operating budget which carries benefits that far exceed the costs.

We can, and should, celebrate the outstanding achievements by generations of arena users — from state championship high school teams in the 1980’s to a national tournament qualifying girl’s team earlier this year. We should also laud the foresight of such proponents of ice hockey and the arena as school district and city officials such as Charles Dain, Bill Fleet, Dick Meiss, Al and Sandy Williams, among others.

We are hopeful that a new generation of municipal and district officials and community advocates can continue to make the rink a viable source of community pride, youth development and civic engagement for decades to come.

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